This morning started awful. I was jolted awake to the unpleasant surprise of my roommate shaking my bed frame, “Man! I think your printer is out of ink? This damn thing of yours is going to make me late for class!” I checked my phone, 6:38, three hours before I had set my alarm for. So I crawled out of the comfort of my warm bed to play the role of building IT, so my roommate could make use of my free printer. Of course, after he left, my worst nightmare came true; I couldn’t fall back asleep. So I decided to get up and get ready. Day twenty-six in Chicago, we just started our third week of classes; which means the deadline for our first dispatch is approaching faster than I want it to. Where do I go? I had asked around and Googled a few interesting locations that I could write enough about to fill at least a few pages. Someone had mentioned the Chicago History Museum; Great, that’s it! I could write a brief history about Chicago from what I learned at the Museum, just enough to fill a page or two. I stepped one foot outside, I was soaked; “Shit! So much for walking.” It felt like it took an eternity trying to set up my billing information in Uber, but after several trials and many errors, I requested a driver. After a quick Google search to pass the time, I figured that the Chicago History Museum was definitely the place that I wanted to write about. “How long have I been waiting for this Uber?” I glance at my phone; Great, I mixed up the addresses. My driver that was going to take me to the History Museum, was already waiting outside the front doors for me. I gave up on the whole Uber thing and I found a bus that could take me right to the museum, bus twenty-two, and the next route left in five minutes. I spent over two hours in the Museum, taking plenty of notes. By the time I left the rain had stopped; the sun came out and it turned out to be a beautiful day. According to my phone’s GPS, I was about 3 miles away from my dorm. The weather was nice enough and with no other plans for the day, I decided to walk home. However, what I didn’t expect was the turn of events that happened on my journey home; a story in the next 7,800 steps.
I walked approximately 1,478 steps to a nearby coffee shop. I ordered my usual, a sixteen ounce Chai Latte, extra hot. I sat in a small window seat and I watched as the cars would go past and the occasional pedestrian would walk right up against the window. I was staring at a puddle, it was deep enough to make a reflection of the surrounding buildings and was so clear, it looked like it could’ve been a hole to the other side of the earth. As cars would drive into the puddle, I wondered if the people on the other side could see the car passing over. Suddenly, a huge gust of wind swung open the only door in the establishment; in walks a man. He was wearing tattered oversized clothing and a worn pair of sneakers; he was homeless. The man stumbled around the coffee shop for a while until he took a seat directly across from me. He started babbling incoherent nonsense and I tried to appear like I wasn’t paying attention. But there was something about him, some interesting thing that I couldn’t explain. Sam Weller, one of my college professors, once told me, “Go out and turn your curiosity radar on,” and for some particular reason, this homeless man captured my investigative mind. I went up to the bar and bought him a coffee and a small pastry. He was delighted to see that someone had gone out of their way todo something for him. I asked him what his name was, “Jeremy,” he said. “It’s nice to meet you Jeremy. My name’s Jonathan.” He looked at me, set his cup of coffee down on the table ever so slightly and started to cry. I began to panic! What do I do? How did I upset this man? Everyone is looking at me like I did something wrong. “Are you okay, Jeremy? Did I do something to upset you?” He took the napkin in his hand and wiped his tears away, “No, son. You just reminded me of someone that I used to know, that’s all.” Not knowing what question to follow up with, the naive student within me said, “Who was it, who did I remind you of?” He looked up at me, almost too shocked that I had even cared about his problems and sorrows. “I once worked for a nice man back in the 80’s, named Jonathan, I was his gardener. I would tend to his flower arrangements and occasionally help his children with homework, once they returned home from school.” He paused for a moment and picked up the single rose in the small centerpiece on our table. “But one day, in the summer of ‘94, he had gotten a message that his mother was very ill. After many arguments with his wife, he forced his family to move back to California to help aid his mother. I showed up at the house for work after the weekend to find them gone, nothing, just an empty house.” He took another sip of his coffee and gently set the rose back into the vase. “And much like a beautiful rose, everything in this world begins to wither away until it’s finally time for us to depart.” I was speechless. How do I comment on a story such as that? “After I heard that his mother had passed away, I realized that him and his family were not going to return to Chicago. So, I started searching for other work, but in the late 90’s, no one was looking to hire a personal gardener. Now, 16 years have passed and I’ve gone from one shelter and street corner to another trying to find a nice place to sleep.” By now, he had finished his scone and his coffee. He glanced up at the clock and shouted, “Shit! I gotta make it back before Reggie takes my spot.” He jumped out of his seat and started making his way towards the door. “Thank you for the food, young man. God Bless.”
I now had a headache from all the caffeine and lack of food that I had consumed all day. After leaving the coffee shop I walked an another 2,000 steps before I made it to Sushi Naniwa, a small, hole-in-the-wall kind of restaurant, where I met someone for dinner. The sushi was great and I would definetly recommend that place to anyone who hasn’t tried it yet. Sometimes I can get a little carried away talking about things over dinner, and with my day being so interesting, we didn’t leave the diner until well after the sun had set. We said our goodbyes and she took off towards the station for the brown line back towards Lincoln Park, and I went the other direction towards the red line. 980 steps later, I decided that taking the red line at that time of night, probably wasn’t the best idea, so I decided to cheat. I requested an Uber for the remaining 4,322 steps.
To my right was an alleyway. The rain on the pavement acted as a chrysalis as it went through a beautiful metamorphosis into abstract pastel painting. The street was illuminated and brought to life from the flickering neon signs above. What suddenly kidnapped my attention was the natural leading lines from the two buildings encapsulating the alleyway. It drew my eyes towards the end of the street, where a woman was standing alone in a red dress and high heeled stilettos. She appeared to be waiting for someone or something. The faint grin on her face began to fade after each person passed her by, almost not even acknowledging her existence. It was like everyone came together to become isolated; they seemed so distant from one another. The woman stood there, alone, under the overwhelmingly loud lights. You know, someone asked me once why I described neon lights as loud. Well, during my childhood I became very close with a friend who was blind. I would, from time to time, give him a audible transcription of how I viewed the growing world around me. One day he asked me, “What does neon look like? You know, Neon lights! What do they look like?” I sat there for a while, thinking of a way to describe the vibrant emitting lights, that were sometimes so enticing, I realized I had taken for granted. After much deliberation, I told him, “Neon lights to the eyes are… are kind of like a high pitch siren to the ears. Yeah! The colors are very loud and clear.” The woman was approached by a man, who appeared to be whoever she was waiting for and they drove off in his red ‘08 Mustang; you could tell by the shape of the back fender. Once she left, the alleyway was too empty and the lights were almost blinding. At this point I was getting a little pissed, “How long have I waited for this fucking Uber to show up?” I double checked the app to make sure that I hadn’t mixed up the pick-up location, again. Nope, “five-minutes away.” So, I sat down on what looked like the cleanest part of the curb and poked around endlessly on my phone to help pass the time. I even began reading the next set of excerpts for the weekly reading response. Fifteen minutes passed before I decided that my Uber driver was a lost cause. I looked around, hoping to find a bus stop close by, or at the very least, signs that would lead me to the nearest train station. Before I got up to leave, I took one last look at the vibrant neon alleyway. Hoping one day, I would see something as beautiful as – She’s back? The woman was back, standing in the same spot at the end of the iridescent alleyway. It took me only a couple of moments to realize that she wasn’t waiting for anyone in particular, she had just made a sale. After the job was done, she snapped right back into the same busy alleyway, almost like elastic. Try not to think about that metaphor too much. Holy Christ! My Uber finally showed up. “Sorry dude, I stopped to look for you on the other side of the block.” “That’s okay, I’m not in a hurry anyway.” “Where are you heading to?” “525 South State Street; I’m on my way to finish a story.” “Really, what are you writing about?” “I’m thinking about writing a story called, Chicago: A City of People.”(Jonathan Ochocki, City of Stories Student)